Category Archives: Books

Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through Its Place-Names Book Review

Names are more than letters put together to create an identity. They allow us to create an image of the person we are about to meet or the place we are going.

Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through Its Place-Names, by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, was published in April. The book takes the reader through the history of New York City via the names of the streets, the neighborhoods, and the boroughs. They are also introduced to the various communities and people that have shaped the city’s image and culture.

I personally loved this book. As both a history nerd and a nearly life long resident of NYC, it was fascinating insight into one of the most famous places on Earth. I will say, that as amazing as it is, this book has a very specific audience. It might not appeal to everyone, but those who are interesting in the subject would enjoy it.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Let’s Talk About Hard Things Book Review

Hard conversations are hard for a reason. But until we have them, we cannot overcome the reason for the conversation.

The new book, Lets Talk About Hard Things, by Anna Sale (host of the WNYC podcast Death, Sex, and Money) was published earlier this month. Based on the podcast, Ms. Sale goes deeper into the difficult topics that we need to go over, but for a variety of reasons, keep inside of us. Talking about death, sex, money, family, and identity (all of which are complicated), she allows both her readers and the people she interviews to release what is holding them back and living a fulfilling life.

I loved this book. The author is as amiable and authentic on the page as she is on the show. Her approach is a gentle one, opening the door and allowing a confessional style interview that feels like two friends meeting for drinks, not a journalist speaking to an interviewee.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Pieces of Me Book Review

No living human knows what happens when we die. We can only imagine what happens when our souls leave our body.

In the 2014 novel, Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer, Jessica’s one vanity is her long blonde hair. Known in her high school for being weird, her hair is cut in a brutal and unexpected manner. After she is killed in a car accident, her body parts are donated to four other teenagers. Through the organs her family has donated, Jessica is given an insight into the other kids who have received the parts of her former physical form.

Samuel has had health issues his entire life. Turning to religion and prayer, he hopes to find solace in the higher power. Vivian loves to paint, she sees the world through color. She is also battling cystic fibrosis. Leif’s parents are famous athletes who expect their son to follow in their footsteps. An accident on the football field changes his perspective on everything. Misty is juggling a new liver that she is unsure about and family/economic problems. There is a question of immigration status, which only adds to what is already on her plate.

I wanted to like this book. I was drawn in by the narrative and the potential of weaving the individual threads into the larger story. The problem is that there were moments that in jumping from character to character, I got a little lost. The ending was also not as satisfying as I hoped it would be.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood College and Creating a Better Future for Young Families Book Review

For many women, when we are taught the birds and the bees, there is one message that is emphasized over and over again. The only acceptable way of being a parent is when your married. Having a child outside of wedlock is unacceptable and scandalous. It is even worse when your still a child yourself.

According to reporting from the CDC, approximately 195,000 babies were born to teenage mothers in 2017. Many of these girls are black and brown, and come from families and neighborhoods that are already underserved. Back in the late 90’s, activist and writer Nicole Lynn Lewis was a young lady with a bright future ahead of her. Then she got pregnant and her plans as she knew them to be forever changed. Determined to attend college in spite of the challenges of poverty, homelessness, and the responsibility of being a parent, she had a goal of earning her degree. Her newly published memoir, Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families is not just her story. It is the story of many girls whose experiences are similar to that of the author’s.

I loved this book. What is different about this memoir is that Ms. Lewis is also teaching her readers about the stigmas and added levels of anxiety that come with parenthood before the age of twenty. She is throwing down the gauntlet, asking on both a person and societal level to question if this treatment of young parents is fair. What I find inspiring is that instead of throwing herself a pity party, the author did everything she could to not just help herself, but help others in the same situation.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Secret World of Delia and Mingli Book Review

Learning to conquer our fears is never easy. It requires guts, confidence, and the innate knowledge that we are on the right path.

In the new children’s book, The Secret World of Delia and Mingliby Harley West, seven-year-old Delia’s newest toy is a stuffed elephant named Mingli. Plagued by bad dreams, she is unable to sleep. Opening her eyes, Delia discovers that Mingli has come to life. He tells her that the only way to make the nightmares disappear is to go to the land of Imagine Nation and receive a crown from King Jesper and Queen Freya. Only then will she be able to have a good night’s sleep. On the journey to meet the King and Queen, they will encounter creatures they never expected and learn about friendship, courage, and looking beyond first impressions.

This book is utterly adorable. Delia is a relatable little girl that I am sure will resonate well with young readers. The imagery and language are absolutely perfect for the world that exists within the book. it’s the kind of book that I wish I had read at that age. What struck me as an adult is that though the message is targeted toward children, the lesson is timeless and ageless.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

This review was initially written for Discovery. The original review can be read here.

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From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back Book Review

Movie sequels have a tenuous reputation. Some live up to the expectations setup by their predecessor. Others fail miserably. But there are a handful that more than succeed. On that list is The Empire Strikes Back.

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back was published last fall. 40 writers tell the stories of background characters whose perspectives and histories were not seen on film. They are from all across the galaxy and creatures, both human and non-human, of every sort. Through their eyes, the world that this beloved film exists on expands in new and unexpected ways.

I loved this book. It was a Star Wars fan and fanfiction lover’s dream. The authors clearly know and love the franchise. There is no detail that is missed, it is a complete and wonderful deep dive into what I believe to be the best movie in the entire saga. I will warn however, that this book is not for newbie or virgin members of the fanbase. To truly understand and enjoy the book, the preferable reader is one who is well versed in the overall narrative and mythology.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Thoughts On Noa Tishby Calling Out John Oliver

The accusation of war crimes is not to be taken lightly. The problem is that the phrase can be co-opted to misrepresent the truth in a conflict.

During a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver towed the media line and continued to spread the same old lies about the Israel/Palestine conflict. I could show the video, but I would like to be able to sleep tonight. Normally, I love John Oliver. He presents the news in a way that includes much needed common sense but a few drops of comedy.

But on this subject, I cannot stomach the lies he and other media outlets/personalities have shared. Nor can I be silent.

For the rest of this post, I am going to let author, actress, and activist Noa Tishby speak. She is far more eloquent on than I could ever be.

Am Yisroel Chai.

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Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played Book Review

The relationship with our parents is not always black and white. We love them, we respect them, and we are grateful for what they have given us. But we can also be plagued by their flaws and what we wished we had received from them as children.

Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played, written by the iconic Broadway performer Tovah Feldshuh, was released last month. In the book, Ms. Feldshuh talks about her life and career while detailing the sometimes difficult relationship, she had with her late mother, Lily. Born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester town of Scarsdale, she lived the comfortable life of a young lady growing up in the middle class in the 1950’s.

Trying to live up to the ideals that her mother believed in, Tovah never quite received the emotional support she craved. It was only years later after her father had died that mother and daughter finally had the connection that did not exist in Tovah’s childhood. Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, she finally understood Lily in a way that only occurs in adulthood.

This is easily one of the best books of 2021. It’s heartfelt, its humorous, and authentic. Though the details are specific to her life, it could easily be the story of any complicated parent/child relationship. What I took from the book is that it is possible to move beyond the unspoken words between us and our parents. It would have not been unexpected to slide into CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect). But the fact that they were able to not only get along, but understand each other, is a testament that it can be done.

I had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Feldshuh play Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony years ago. It was one of the most powerful and enduring performances I have ever seen on stage.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Exile Music: A Novel Book Review

Childhood should be a time of love, laughter, friendship, and innocence. But for some children, their early years are far from ideal.

Exile Music: A Novel, by Jennifer Steil, was published this month. Growing up in Vienna in the 1930’s, Orly lives a comfortable life. Her parents are professional musicians and her older brother is well regarded by the neighborhood. When she is not with her family, Orly spends her free time with her best friend, Anneliese. In 1938, her world is shattered by the Nazi invasion and the racial laws that quickly begin to restrict Jewish life.

After her brother flees to Switzerland, Orly and her parents are among the lucky few who find refuge in Bolivia. Settling in La Paz, they are strangers in a strange land. While Orly and her father make due, her mother is not quite ready to give up what they lost. She is also keeping a secret that if got out, could cause trouble. Decades later, when Anneliese comes back into her life, Orly has to make a choice. Does she stay in Bolivia with her family or return to Europe and pick up where she and Anneliese left off?

I really enjoyed reading this book. Orly is relatable character. Her voice and growth throughout the novel felt organic and true to the various stages of life that we go through as we grow up. I also appreciated the undercurrent of the LGBTQ storyline. Instead of feeling forced to make the book stand out, Steil includes in a way that gives her main character a layer and an extra oomph that is not often seen in this genre and this period in history.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Happy Mother’s Day

This is for my mother and all the mothers out there. Happy Mother’s Day!

“My Mother: She is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.”-Jodi Picoult

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